Delivered at St. Joseph Catholic Church, West St. Paul
Three years ago when these readings came to pass, shortly prior to Mass (at a parish other than where I was residing at the time!), the lector came into to the sacristy and announced to me that she would be reading the short version of the second reading, from the Letter to the Ephesians, because she did not agree with the first section of that reading.
Admittedly, three minutes before Mass is not the place to have a theological discussion, but I gently encouraged that we would be doing the full reading, for several reasons: one, I was preaching on that section of the reading; but also we should not just dismiss something in the Scriptures just because we do not like it. We cannot dismiss something simply because we dislike it, simply because it is difficult or antiquated, simply because it ‘was bound by the times’ that it was written.
Scripture is timeless and Christ speaks to us through the entire breadth and depth of Scripture, especially in areas where things are difficult to understand or embrace; and the goal is not to water down the faith, but to help us embrace the fullness and beauty and depth of the truth revealed to us in Christ. After all, in our Gospel passage today, many of the disciples walk away from Christ simply because ‘this teaching is too hard, who can accept it?’
So, how do we understand this passage from Ephesians? I think it is important to note that this passage is in the context of St. Paul discussing the relationship between Christ and the church; and that married life is a way that we can understand that relationship, too; as we see, the first line is in relation and reverence to Christ. There is a humble submission of will that we are to have as we approach Christ; a humble submission of allowing Him to work through what we say and do; to let Him shine in our thoughts, words and deeds.
But, the exhortation goes farther, as well. ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church.’ It raises the simple question: How does Christ love the Church? It is not with mere emotion. It is not because the Church makes Jesus feel good (far from it most of the time, I would think!)
Rather, Jesus loves the Church by giving His life so that we might be able to live in Him. He dies for us, so that we might be without spot or wrinkle, so that we can be holy and without blemish. The role of the husband is to sanctify and bless his wife and household by leading in the faith.
By the submission of will to Christ and the power to lay down our life for the other, we become (no matter our state in life) more completely unified in Christ. And as we do so, then are we able to have a deeper, more fervent reception of the Holy Eucharist, the source of our unity in Christ, as well.